November 15, 2018

Braves trounce Canes 63-22 to open state playoffs

The Braves enter Staples Stadium to opne the 2018 State Playoffs prior to a 63-22 win over Monticello. The Braves will host Douglass in Round 2 next Friday night at Staples. (Photo: Donna Jones)

(Franklin, GA) — The Braves opened the 2018 GHSA Class AA playoffs by rolling to a big 63-22 win over the visiting Monticello Hurricanes at Staples Stadium Friday night.

The 63 points scored is a playoff record for Heard County and was just short of the overall school record 67 scored by the 1990 Braves in the regular season finale shutout over Brookstone.

The Braves jumped out to an early 21-0 lead before the Canes scored on a huge 80-yard kickoff return to close the gap to 21-6.

The Braves were bitten by big plays three times in the first half as the Cane offense also managed TD’s on an 80-yard TD pass and a 52-yard run from Cane senior QB Jay Fleetwood.

Senior Aaron Beasley led the way for the Braves offense with one of his biggest performances of the season. Beasley rushed for 231 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries.

Senior Andrew Leak also had a big night with three total touchdowns including one through the air.

Leak provided some balanced offense for the Braves with four rushes for 36 yards and four catches for 45 yards. He hauled in the only TD pass of the night, a 20-yarder from Alijah Huzzie with the primary portion of the damage coming via the ground attack with the team rushing for 499 yards.

Alex Boyd accounted for 82 of those yards on 11 carries while Tae Gray had 81 on nine carries. Ashton Bonner also scored a TD and totaled 36 yards on four carries.

Defensively, the Braves allowed 192 total yards with the bulk coming on the two big scoring plays.

LeQuincy Shepherd had the highlight of the night on a third quarter interception he returned into Cane territory to put the game firmly out of reach. It was the fifth interception of the season for the senior who has come on strong for the Braves on both sides of the ball down the stretch.

Brave head coach Tim Barron pointed out the need for  improvement on the offensive line moving forward.

“When we wanted to throw, Huzzie was under a lot of pressure. We’ve got to protect a lot better up front. We’ve got to have a better week with the offensive line,” said Barron after the win.

“We were banged up and there were guys rolling in, but those guys have got to know when they come in. They’ve got to go in there and they’ve got to play better when their number is called.”

Barron says his defense played well but will need to work on focus as the road gets tougher in the coming weeks.

“Early in the game they did well, but once we started subbing and making some adjustments, the energy went down. The focus went down,” Barron said. “Once you lose that energy and focus, that’s when those mistakes happen. Everything that happened on those three big plays, a lot of it was just a lack of focus.”

The Braves (9-2, 5-0) will next host the Douglass Astros (10-1, 6-1) from Region 6-AA, an unranked team that has played well all season long with their only loss coming 24-0 to the state’s top team Hapeville, a team the Braves also fell to by a final score of 33-3 early this season. The Astros handled Pepperell 34-0 Friday in round one to advance to round two.

Barron says Douglass will present a tough task in the Sweet 16 and the team will need loads of fan support at Staples.

“They would be a No. 1 seed in a lot regions, so you’ve basically got two No. 1’s that are about to go head-to-head,” Barron said. “We’ll need a large crowd next week. We’ll need a lot of energy from our fans next week, because next week it’s for real. Everybody in this next round is good. Everybody in this next round has a shot to make a run.”

Two other teams from Region 5-AA also advanced to the Sweet 16 as Callaway moved past Elbert County 27-14 and will next travel to Hapeville. Bremen crushed Union County 40-10 on the road and this week will travel to Rockmart.

The winner between the Braves and Astros next week will next meet either Dublin or Thomasville. Dublin rolled 49-14 over Toombs County Friday while Thomasville took down Hephzibah 42-7 on the road.

Other Class AA teams advancing were Rabun County, Chattooga, Swainsboro, Fitzgerald, Dodge County, Jefferson County, Washington County, and Brooks County. There were no major upsets in round one with all of the state’s top 10 teams winning handily.

The Braves and Astros will kick off at 7:30 PM next Friday night in Franklin.

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